When I got home I walked to my front door and about an inch from the keyhole was a spider roughly the size of God. Normally I would have shrieked back in fear, then gone to the car and opened the garage door and gone into the house that way – as far as possible from gigantor the spider! Instead, I put my hand out and put the key into the lock. The spider didn’t move, I opened the door and came in.
About an hour later my husband Ken and I came out to go to dinner. I pointed out my new friend but didn’t issue any death warrants. Ken said, “aren’t you going to demand that I kill it so that it doesn’t get into the house and eat the cats?” Nope. I was free.
Now, I’m not going to claim that my heart doesn’t still make that little jump when I see a spider – but now that I understand that the problem was that I didn’t trust myself to be able to handle the situation if there was a problem – I was no longer afraid. Of course I can kill a spider if it is necessary. I’ve done it many times!
You may be wondering what this has to do with creativity . . .
For the first time in my painting life I was blocked. I had been asked by a publication to paint a series of pieces and since the moment that I got the request I had been avoiding painting. I couldn’t even get myself to sit down and paint from a pattern. I avoided. I cleaned. I rearranged. I kvetched. I did not paint.
Matters escalated when the pieces I’d been asked to design for arrived. I didn’t open the box for two days. After I opened the box, I put everything carefully back in. Ken came in and took everything out to look at it and then left it out – right where I could see it! I rearranged. I alphabetized. I looked into new lighting for my studio. I did not paint.
Ken, being the helpful type, pointed out that I had not yet drawn the designs for the new pieces. Did I have a plan, he asked? Was it going to be a theme? Did I need to bring our assistant in for a few extra hours so I could have time to paint? I hemmed. I hawed. I reluctantly mentioned an idea. I pointed out that I had never done anything like it. I pointed out that I wasn’t sure they would like it. I looked at the ceiling. I did not meet his eyes. I did not draw any illustrations. I did not paint.
About two in the morning I woke up from a dream. I rarely remember my dreams, but when I do it turns out that I am a quite literal dreamer. I was driving over that bridge but when I looked over the side down below were hundreds and hundreds of the blank pieces I had not yet painted. When I got over the bridge, I was back on it again. I looked over the side. Yep, still there. The bridge started again and again until I woke from the frustration of being unable to get away from it. Then it hit me. I didn’t start painting the pieces because I did not trust myself.
If you think about it, creativity is the ultimate act of self-trust. When you start to design or write, you have to do it from a place inside yourself that says, “I can do this!” This was the first time in my life that I had been “commissioned” to paint something. In the past, I had painted or written what I liked and then submitted it – take it or leave it. I was terrified.
When we start to do something new, we do it because we have an internal belief that we have something to say or something new to present. Something all our own. Steinbeck referred to the artistic process as a blend of faith and arrogance. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about giving yourself permission to create “shitty first drafts”. Creativity has nothing to do with selling or approval or commercial success. Creativity is taking a risk, trusting yourself to stay on the road. Knowing that if it isn’t perfect the first time, you have the skills to correct it – even if it takes a lifetime. Creativity is about the process, the journey.